Belfast Telegraph

Fears for economic recovery as Northern Ireland car sales fall 3%

By John Mulgrew and Margaret Canning

Confidence in buying big-ticket items could be on the wane after car sales in Northern Ireland suffered another fall.

Sales in May slipped by more than 3% compared to the same month last year. And overall sales were down 1.7% on the year so far, contrasted with 2014, according to yesterday's figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

There were 4,610 new cars registered here last month, and there have been 27,352 during the year so far.

Scotland and Wales suffered even sharper year-on-year drops, but sales in England accelerated once again, this time by 4%.

The Ford Fiesta continued to lead the way in sales in Northern Ireland, with almost 1,200 shifted so far in 2015, comfortably ahead of the next best-seller, the Volkswagen Golf (below), of which 904 were sold.

But the Golf was the best-seller during the month of May itself, with 179 new sets of keys being handed out.

The Vauxhall Corsa was close behind the Golf with 171 sales in May, but it was still number five in the list of best-sellers during the year so far.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that the inferences to be drawn about consumer confidence from car sales data contradicted other findings.

"Northern Ireland's consumers have seen significant improvements in their cost of living over the last number of months," he added.

"Disposable incomes have been boosted by falling food and energy prices, coupled with above-inflation pay rises.

"Despite this positive backdrop, however, new car sales growth has stalled this year.

"This is the most tangible indicator of consumer confidence, and it suggests that consumers are reluctant to splash out on big-ticket expenditure items. The fact that petrol prices in the forecourts have risen by almost 10% since February perhaps makes consumers sceptical about the durability of the recent recovery in disposable incomes".

Scotland's car sales were down 8% in May, while sales in Wales dropped 5%.

But year-on-year, Scotland's falls in sales were negligible, at just 0.22%, while sales were up year-on-year in Wales by 2.42%.

England's year-on-year sales growth was the healthiest of the UK's regions, sitting at 6.65%.

Car sales have been declining since the beginning of the year, but there was still surprise when SMMT figures showed Northern Ireland sales had fallen by 5% in January, based on the same period in 2014, while the UK as a whole saw a jump of almost 7%.

But February car sales in the region were up 2.38% year-on-year, while March figures were down 2%. There was, meanwhile, a slight increase of 1% in April.

The sales figures for 2014 had been up by around 10% on the year before, with 57,000 cars shifted in 2014.

But that figure still remained some way off the 69,000 sold back in 2007 before the downturn.

Belfast Telegraph